(Christine, right, with friend Kay McDonald)
16th October 2020
This week we launched our campaign Find the Right Words, challenging the language used around stammering. In this article, Christine Birney talks about the words that have had an impact on her.
Growing up, at home and outside my family home, I was always taught 'If you have nothing nice or kind to say, keep quiet'.
My stammer has proven to have had a knock-on effect on my ability to communicate on various different levels. Making friends at school was one of the first barriers that I encountered, which had proven to be a difficult one, resulting in being a victim of bullying throughout my 12 years there. I was often mocked, called names and left out of activities; all due to the fact that I stammer.
However, a handful of people throughout those years looked past my struggle and stammer. Now my best friends have stood by me, stood up for me and stayed with me through each battle and every victory. Nevertheless, I have now came to realise that through the journey of 'growing up', there is nothing as cruel as school children, and it is something that was highlighted from having a stammer.
As the years have gone on, I have come to realise that 'my journey' and 'my voice' have been unique. This unique journey has given me many key qualities in life, one of which is confidence. Although every day is a different one, and each day brings different challenges, I feel that those difficulties have enabled me to overcome communication barriers, and have strengthened me as a person.
These challenges have allowed me to embark on a journey that is both difficult and rewarding. For instance, since starting speech and language therapy in February 2013 and carrying it on for four years, I 'found' my voice.
This unique journey has given me many key qualities in life, one of which is confidence.
Having therapy has brought me many opportunities, such as taking part in the 'My Journey, My Voice' project in 2016. This was part of the Giving Voice campaign which aimed to raise awareness of communication difficulties in Northern Ireland. None of us realised how far the project would reach, so I was excited when I was asked to travel over to London to accept an award on behalf of the nine people who took part. The ceremony was held in Westminster, and I even gave a short acceptance speech.
I am not the only person that can see the changes in how I approach challenges and how I let these barriers impact my life. Family and friends have commented on the stronger and more confident person that 'my journey' has made me. By no means has my stammer gone, but it is nothing that cannot be challenged through a slow, relaxed, and gentle approach to words.
We all need somebody to lean on. The only way to have a friend is to be one.
Socially, as I have gotten older, more people are more accepting of my stammer. I don’t have to think twice about many social situations. As I look back upon my experiences, I have some regrets for not speaking out sooner than I did. I can’t believe I wasted so many years, thinking it was normal to experience the bullying.
The butcher told me "Christine, ignore everybody else, stop saying sorry, take your time. I'm waiting for your order. Everybody else can wait." His words were really heartwarming.
Words are like a stone that has been thrown into the sea. It cannot be retrieved. Similarly, once words are said, they cannot be taken back.
Where I live in Co. Fermanagh in Northern Ireland, I have so much support in the local community. Since I went public to highlight stammering awareness in the area, people have been much kinder and more accepting of communication barriers. I can now just be myself in the public eye, instead of trying to hide my stammer; which is sometimes impossible.
What I have learnt is that it only takes one person to speak out. Many people have said to me, “You have a stammer, fair play to you for speaking out. You are so brave. That must take guts.” Yes, it does, but once I spoke out the first time, I felt a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
Just recently, I was in a local butcher's shop ordering meat; I found myself blocking pretty badly. The butcher told me "Christine, ignore everybody else, stop saying sorry, take your time. I’m waiting for your order. Everybody else can wait." His words were really heartwarming. I hope members of staff in other establishments follow suit and have the same patience and kindness.
Patience is a virtue and kindness means everything. To everyone who shows kindness to someone with a stammer:
Thanks is just a little word,
But still it’s meant to show,
Your kindness is appreciated,
Much more than you could know.
One word can make or break someone's day, so think before you speak.
Read more about our campaign Find The Right Words here, and download our guidelines on the language to use around stammering, on our page 'It's How We Talk'. If you'd like to write an article for our site, see our Share Your Story page to find out how.